Richard Glazar on the cover of his book titled Trap with a Green Fence
November 29, 1920
|Died||December 20, 1997 (aged 77)
|Known for||Treblinka survivor, author of Treblinka memoir|
Richard Glazar, born Richard Goldschmid (November 29, 1920 – December 20, 1997), was a Czech Jew who lived through World War II. He was one of only a small group of survivors of the Treblinka death camp prisoner revolt. He portrayed the horror of Treblinka in his autobiographical book titled Trap with a Green Fence: Survival in Treblinka (1994). Glazar committed suicide at the age of 77, after the death of his wife.
Glazar was born in Prague in newly sovereign Czechoslovakia. His family was Jewish Bohemian. His father Hugo Glazar served in the Austro-Hungarian Army before independence. As such, the family spoke both Czech and German — a skill that would stand him in good stead later in life. In 1932, Glazar’s parents divorced. His mother married a wealthy leather merchant, Quido Bergmann, and four years later they had two children, Karel and Adolf. During World War II, Karel died in the Austrian concentration camp at Mauthausen on May 17, 1942. Adolf was captured by the Nazis but later rescued by the Danish Red Cross. Glazar’s father, Hugo, died of pneumonia in the Soviet Union, to which he had escaped from the Nisko reservation in the General Government of occupied Poland; some 1,100 Czech Jews had been deported there by the Nazis in 1939. The only member of his family still alive when he returned to Prague in 1945 was his mother, who had survived both Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen.
Richard Glazar was accepted into the Charles University in Prague, in June 1939. He was originally enrolled as a philosophy student, but anti-Jewish legislation after the German occupation forced him into a course reading Economics. His entire family had the chance to move to England at Christmas in 1938, when his stepfather obtained a permit. Glazar, however did not take this opportunity, as he did not want to leave behind all that he had built up in Czechoslovakia. At this stage there could have been little understanding of the horrors that were to occur in the coming years.
On November 17, 1939, all Czech universities were closed until the end of the war, following student demonstrations against the execution of a number of their fellow students. This act would have been one of the Glazar family’s first warnings of the horrific events to follow, and fearing for his safety, his family sent him to a farm outside Prague in 1940. Glazar stayed there for two years. But on September 12, 1942, he was transported to the Nazi concentration camp or ghetto at Theresienstadt (previously the fortified town of Terezin, located 35 miles north of Prague). Following the German occupation of the rest of Czechoslovakia on March 15, 1939, Theresienstadt became a holding area for transports to other concentration camps, such as Auschwitz.
In Terezin, Glazar met Karl Unger, who became a close friend. Glazar was to stay in Terezin for only one month, before he and Unger were transported to Treblinka on October 8, 1942.
Glazar described his arrival at Treblinka in his memoir Trap with a Green Fence, drafted in Czech immediately after the war, but left unpublished for the following four decades. His book appeared in print for the first time several years after the French release of the controversial Shoah (film), when Glazar was already in his sixties. It was published in German first by S. Fischer Verlag in 1992; and followed by the English translation in 1995 by Northwestern University Press. Also when being interviewed for Shoah, Glazar talked about what it was like his first day in the camp:
We were taken to the barracks. The whole place stank. Piled high in a jumbled mass were all the things people could conceivably have brought......As I worked I asked him: ‘What’s going on? Where are the ones who stripped?’ He yelled in Yiddish: ‘Dead! All Dead!’ 
It is commonly known, that the new arrivals at Treblinka were ordered to strip for the 'baths'. They were herded into gas chambers disguised as communal showers. The exhaust gas was pumped in instead of water. Glazar and Unger were not gassed, but relegated to the Sonderkommando work unit. Glazar’s knowledge of both Czech and German may have helped him to secure one of these jobs. Glazar described in his book the packing of victims' clothes for shipment to Germany, and how the gold from teeth was extracted and – together with coins and jewelry brought by the exterminated Jews – added to the booty. Food and luxuries helped sustain both the German SS and the Ukrainian guards along with workers who could steal them at the unloading ramp. Glazar and Unger spent several months working at the camp, fully aware that they were aiding and abetting the cause that killed thousands of their own people every month. In the end, they were the only known two Czech Jews who were not murdered immediately upon their arrival to Treblinka, out of some 18,000 victims of gassing.
After the big transports from Grodno and Białystok Ghettos in January 1943, in February and March 1943 no transports came into the camp. The Sonderkommando had virtually no food. This brought a horrible realisation to the Jewish workers that their lives depended entirely on the transports arriving regularly: their food, clothing, and own survival depended on the ongoing deaths of their fellow countrymen.
It was this kind of knowledge that drove them to try and escape. With no Jews to do the work, the Nazis would have had a lot more trouble running such camps so efficiently. The first escape attempt was planned for January 1943 and was code-named "The Hour". The idea was that at a specified time, all those working for the camp would attack the SS and Ukrainian guards, steal their weapons, and attack the camp Kommandantur. Unfortunately, this did not proceed, as typhus broke out, and many inmates either died, were hospitalized, or were too sick to participate. The escape that actually worked was slightly less violent and ambitious: on August 2, 1943, men broke out through a damaged gate during a prisoner’s revolt. Most of the escapees were arrested close to the camp, but Glazar and Unger fled from the area and made their way across Poland.
While on the run, Glazar and Unger were arrested by a forester, but they managed to convince him that they were Czechs working for "Organisation Todt" (a Nazi construction and engineering group in Poland). Both men were later sent to Mannheim in Germany, to work for Heinrich Lanz as immigrant workers, using falsified papers.
Life after the war
Following the end of the war, when Glazar and Unger were liberated by the Americans, Glazar attended the trials of many of the Nazis associated with Treblinka, including Franz Stangl. Glazar also went on to study in Prague, Paris, and London, and received a degree in Economics — the field he had been forced into by anti-Jewish legislation in 1939.
In 1968, he and his family moved to Switzerland after the invasion of Czechoslovakia by the armies of the Warsaw Pact. Glazar also helped Michael Peters, the founder of the Aktion Reinhard Camps (ARC, a network of private Holocaust researchers), build a model of the Treblinka death camp. Sadly, the model was not completed during Glazar's lifetime.
Glazar committed suicide on December 20, 1997 by jumping out of a window in Prague after the death of his wife, leaving the model incomplete.
- Glazar, Richard (1994). Treblinka, slovo jak z detske rikanky (Eng. Trap with a Green Fence: Survival in Treblinka) (Hardcover ed.). Torst.
- ARC (August 17, 2005). "Treblinka: Richard Glazar (Goldschmid)". Death Camps. Retrieved August 2015.
- Benz, Wolfgang (in) Glazar, Richard (1995). "Foreword". Trap with a Green Fence: Survival in Treblinka (illustrated, revised ed.) (Northwestern University Press). p. VIII. ISBN 9780810111691.
- "1941: Mass Murder". The Holocaust Chronicle. p. 282. Retrieved 2012-12-15.
- "Survivor Richard Glazar: Treblinka Recalled". Holocaust Research Project. Retrieved August 2015.
- Robert D. Cherry, Anna Maria Orla-Bukowska (2007). "Poland and the Poles in the Cinematic Portrayal of the Holocaust". Rethinking Poles and Jews: troubled past, brighter future. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 36. ISBN 0742546667. Retrieved 2013-05-11.
- Richard Glazar (1995). Trap with a Green Fence: Survival in Treblinka. Northwestern University Press. pp. vii–viii, 7, 8. ISBN 0810111691.
Foreword by Wolfgang Benz.
- Richard Glazar (1995), "Dazzling spectacle" (in) Trap with a Green Fence, page 91.
- "Richard Glazar - Treblinka". Steven Spielberg Film and Video Archive. Retrieved August 14, 2015.
- "Terezin". history1900s.about.com/od/theresienstadt/a/terezin.htm.